Karl Sanders, MD
Sep 25, 2019 8:00 AM
The M. Paul Southwick Prize for Excellence in Clinical Medicine and TeachingKarl A. Sanders, MD
For his exceptional talent as one of the top educators in the Department of Internal Medicine.
Ask Karl Sanders, associate professor of clinical medicine, what his most challenging subject was in school and he will tell you — acid-based disturbances.
The body maintains a delicate balance of acids within the respiratory and metabolic systems, he explains, and understanding it requires a real mastery of biology, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy. Lung or kidney disorders in particular can throw the body off balance.
Sanders recalls the moment when he realized he might be getting a handle on these complex processes. During his fellowship training, he gave a presentation on acid-based disturbances to residents.
Afterward, one of his critical-care and pulmonary physicians complimented him on the presentation.
Sanders, now a physician and educator in the Division of Respiratory, Critical Care, and Occupational Pulmonary Medicine, says it was a huge confidence boost — one that could result only from students who were encouraged to ask any and all questions, and from an educator who was trained himself to treat every query with respect.
"His genuine curiosity motivates learners to push the boundaries of their own knowledge and understanding through conversation. Karl role models what it truly means to be a lifelong learner."
- Emily Beck, MD
Assistant Professor, Pulmonary Medicine
“I remember the teachers who treated every question as important, the ones who patiently explained complex questions when their first or second answer didn’t provide the clarity I wanted,” Sanders said.
So Sanders strives to be like those teachers. He is the recipient of the U of U School of Medicine 2019 M. Paul Southwick Prize for Clinical Excellence and Teaching. The biennial award “emphasizes the importance of clinical observations and clinical investigation among the contributory sources of advancement in medical knowledge.”
Sanders also serves as the director of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Training Program, through which he prepares fellows for careers as pulmonary and critical-care clinicians, investigators, and educators.
“What sets Karl apart from other educators is his inquisitive nature, thoughtfulness, and dedication to trainee development,” said Emily Beck, MD, an assistant professor in pulmonary medicine who was mentored by Sanders as a fellow. “His genuine curiosity motivates learners to push the boundaries of their own knowledge and understanding through conversation. Karl models what it truly means to be a lifelong learner.”
“This is an unexpected honor,” Sanders said. “Education is an integral component of good clinical care. Recognition of the former gives me hope that I am putting forth my best effort toward the latter.”
Sanders said he benefitted greatly from the mentorship of John R. Hoidal, MD, whose commitment to hard work, willingness to approach information from different angles, and obvious love of the scientific underpinnings of the field stimulated Sanders’ research interests. In the VA’s Medical Intensive Care Unit, Sanders tends to critically ill individuals, while in the VA’s outpatient clinics and inpatient wards, he sees patients with a range of pulmonary diseases that include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, and the pulmonary complications of infection or injury that lead to lung damage.
Sanders is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. After completing an internal-medicine residency at the University of Minnesota, he pursued a pulmonary and critical-care medicine fellowship with the U of U School of Medicine from 1993–96.
Throughout his education, including at Utah, Sanders benefitted from instructors who strove to be approachable to students. He greatly admired those who treated every question equally, because it encouraged students to speak up when something was unclear.
“By doing that, they were able to try to understand what it was that I as a student was missing, and help fill in those gaps,” Sanders said.
In addition to his role as fellowship director, Sanders works with internal-medicine residents and medical students who are rotating through the Intensive Care Unit. He also presents guest lectures for second-year medical students and small student groups.
He enjoys teaching students at all levels but particularly enjoys working with fellows and getting the opportunity to share his passion for cardiopulmonary physiology.
“A lot of them have learned the basics of what they need to be a good internist,” Sanders said. “Now they’re entering my area of medicine. I enjoy finding ways to help them better understand the diseases our patients experience.”
His favorite subjects to teach are those that he originally found challenging, such as acid-based disturbances and gas-exchange and cardiovascular physiology. He notes that the more he teaches these complex subjects, the more secure he gets in his knowledge of them.
“The knowledge we gain from textbooks, guidelines, and e-learning tools doesn’t tell us what a patient wants, what makes most sense for them given the context of their life, and in what order their issues ought to be prioritized,” Sanders said. “I love helping trainees to work through these puzzles. You can do a lot of things for patients. The challenge lies in developing management strategies that best helps them achieve their goals.”
by Richard Polikoff
The 2019 School of Medicine Alumni Awards
Harry Hill, MD
Karl A. Sanders, MD
The M. Paul Southwick Prize for Excellence in Clinical Medicine and Teaching